Toasted almond shortbread cake

Toasted almond shortbread cake

Toasted almond shortbread cake

There’s a crow in my backyard making the strangest noises: throaty, urgent, with just an edge of rudeness. They’ve been all around my house all day, these crows, calling to each other, calling to me, trying to tell me something. It’s not just what they’re saying, either, it’s the way they fly as well, it feels studied, with a pattern and a purpose. It’s quite dramatic and beautiful. And it’s all around my house, circling my world. Of course, once I ventured outside of my house, beyond my block, I realize that they’re all over town behaving strangely, these crows. It’s spring, they’re in a tizzy. But as long as I’m sitting in my own home, searching for meaning everywhere, it feels as thought they’re speaking just to me. I passed a man on the way to school today who was talking to some friends in a truck idling in front of his house. He said that every morning, when he steps onto his porch, he sees the vulture who is nesting in the abandoned house next door, and the vulture is staring down at him, watching his every move. It doesn’t bode well for his day, he fears. I’ve been studying the calls and flight patterns of birds, lately, because I’m applying for an exciting new job. I want to be an augur. It’s a stressful job, I know, with a lot of responsibility, but I feel up for the task. My duties, as an augur, will involve studying the flight paths of birds, listening to how they sing or call, identifying patterns and directions, determining the kind of bird, and whether it flies in a group or alone. If a flock of birds takes into the air all at once, in a confusion of movement, in certain waves, with small sure speed, like an explosion of fireworks, I will know what this means. If a lone bird soars far above the clouds in great lazy circles, I will understand what that bird is telling me, because I will take the auspices. I will decide what is auspicious. Of course the job of an augur is not to determine the future, but to decide if a path already begun upon is the right path to take, if a plan of action is pleasing to the gods. And the gods show us this on the wings of birds, the delicate, powerful, inexplicable, beautiful wings of birds. And this is where I think I would shine as an augur. Because I always think birds are beautiful, I love all of their calls and songs, I love the birds with dusky feathers as well as those with jewel-like plumage. I admire vultures and revere crows, practically anything a bird can do seems like a happy portent to me, except maybe flying into a window. So if you want some good news, you want to feel hopeful about a project you’ve started or a journey you’re taking, come to me. I will read your auspices, I will watch the birds busy in you back yard, feeding in your garden or floating dreamily high above your house, and I will find encouraging signs there.

Toasted almond shortbread cake

Toasted almond shortbread cake

This cake was inspired by memories of a good humor toasted almond bar. It has a simple, shortbread like base, with chocolate chips, of course! And it’s topped with a crunchy almond crumb.

Here’s Flying Birds by the RZA

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Pecan & coconut brownies

Coconut pecan brownies

Coconut pecan brownies

There’s an ad I’ve been seeing a lot lately, when I try to watch my shows on the computer. It promises an “all new more everything plan,” and it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that it has me teetering on the thin line between amusement and despair. First of all, do we really need to reinforce the image of Americans as inarticulate greedy toddlers? MORE MORE MORE NEW NEW NEW!! No, we don’t, we truly don’t. Second of all, thank you once again, marketing-Americans for reducing words to a state of flaccid meaninglessness. It’s like a drug, it started with fairly mild words, “wholesome” or “goodness,” words that most actual people don’t actually use very often and that never had that much vitality. But our tolerance for those words grew to the point that we don’t even notice them anymore, it’s like we didn’t even hear them. So it spread to words that once had some power and complexity, “awesome,” “extreme,” even “power” itself. And now those have about as much flavor as gum that’s been chewed up, spit out, and stuck to the bottom of somebody’s shoe for a few weeks. So it’s on to the really big words. What’s bigger than everything? And this is the idea that keeps going around and around in my head. Everything? Really? More everything? More money, more sunshine, more inspiration, more creativity, more good-will, more intelligence, more patience, more ice cream cones, more cool non-leather shoes, more homes for stray dogs, more empathy for everyone in the world? And then, the next logical question…more everything? Are you sure? More poverty, more rain, more earthquakes, more misunderstanding, more tetanus shots, more rotten raspberries in a bowl that looked so perfect, more war, more hatred, more chaos, more ignorance, more cruelty? More of all of that? And more nothing? Because that’s part of everything, too, isn’t it? Anything, something, nothing, it’s all part of everything. Does this all-new plan offer a glimpse into the abyss? Because I’m not sure I’m ready for that. I’m not ready for all being and nothingness. So be careful what you sign up for, read the fine print, and ask yourself if you’re prepared to take on the extreme awesome power of the all new everything plan.

Coconut pecan brownies

Coconut pecan brownies

Speaking of everything, these wholesomely delicious brownies have it all! They’re soft and flavorful with a crispy top. They have a nice texture because of the coconut and pecans, which are both ground up so that they’re surprising but recognizable.

Here’s The Ramones with I Wanted Everything.

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Salty caramel almond, hazelnut, chocolate chip blondies

Salty caramel chocolate chip bars

Salty caramel chocolate chip bars

We’re experimenting with a “screen-free Sunday.” No TV, no computer, no video games. I’d imagined it would be something like the scene from the Simpsons: all the children of Springfield stop watching television and they all venture outside into the fresh air and sunshine to the tune of Beethoven’s pastoral symphony. It hasn’t been like that. I thought the boys would actually be excited about this plan, because they like camping and they like when the power goes out. They like roughing it. They have so much creativity and imagination it’s bursting out of them, they don’t need TV! But they like TV, and we find them sneakily watching cartoons or claiming that Malcolm’s nook doesn’t count as a screen. So by noon on a Sunday you’ll find me shouting at them that their brains are going to rot, or perhaps have already rotted. That they have INNER RESOURCES, dammit, and they need to use them. I tell them that when I was little we almost never watched TV, we didn’t even want to and we had so much fun, we had so many adventures and created whole worlds. And then Malcolm says, “Yeah, but you had a brother who liked to go outside,” and complaints of Isaac’s proclivity for sitting in his pajamas besides a warm radiator resurface. But I think it’s going to be good for all of us in the long run. One Sunday the boys were slouching about listlessly and moodily one moment, staring at the dark TV, and when I looked back over at them they were playing chess. And the next moment they were playing some complicated game they’d invented involving chess pieces and pieces from some entirely different game. I’m at work all day most Sundays, and when I’ve come home the last few weeks, the house has been an extremely messy testament to the wildness of their imaginations, once let loose from the dulling shackles of the TV. Giant blanket forts, creatures cut out of paper, a crown–with a strap on it–fashioned for poor long-suffering Clio. Drawings that tell stories. Odd science experiments. Crazy and wonderful robots and whole upside-down cities made out of legos. It’s strange to think about how much of our time the computer and television eat away at (and we don’t even get any reception on our television!) A lamentable waste of our precious swiftly-pasing moments. Yesterday Malcolm said he couldn’t relax without watching television, and that made me sad. He should be able to just do nothing. He should be able to just stare into space and think his thoughts. He should be able to go for long car rides or sit around waiting for something to start, and follow his mind wherever it takes him. Yesterday Malcolm also told me that one of these screen-free Sundays will be a rainy day, it will be pouring down rain outside, and he and his brother will have so much energy in them that they’ll explode. Well, we’ll just re-channel it! Think of all of the explosions of energy and creativity throughout history that turned into music and paintings and novels and films! Think how sorry we’d be if instead of making music, paintings, novels, and films, the creator had been sitting around watching Star Wars cartoons. Maybe we’ll have to add a few more screen-free days!

Salty caramel chocolate chip bars

Salty caramel chocolate chip bars

This is something between a cake and bar cookies. It’s made with ground almonds and hazelnuts and very little flour. It’s dense and a little chewy and crunchy on top. It has browned butter inside, brown sugar on top, and a sprinkling of coarse salt, so it’s got a rich, caramel-y flavor. Delicious with tea, coffee or red wine.

Here’s Elvis Perkins with Doomsday. I’m currently obsessed with this beautiful-melancholy-cheerful song.
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Malcolm’s strawberry surprise cookies

Chocolate covered strawberry cookies

Chocolate covered strawberry cookies

I like most flavors. I love some more than others, obviously, but there aren’t many that I actively dislike. I suppose this is why I’ve always been impatient with picky eaters. I just don’t understand not liking food! And then along came Isaac. He’s hard to feed. I get angry with him sometimes, because he seems to decide he doesn’t like something before he’s even tasted it! He seems to not like something just because I made it! It hurts my feelings! I made something the other day and he liked it at first, but after a few bites he put it down. “How is that possible!?!?” I wanted to yell. But he said, “I like the first flavor, and the middle flavor, but the last flavor is something I don’t like.” And then it struck me that we taste things differently. I suppose this is obvious and I should have known it all along, but I hadn’t really thought about it before. For me, tasting something is an immediate experience, for Isaac it’s a journey. All of those wine labels that mention top notes and bottom notes, which leave me feeling a little perplexed? Isaac would get that, he’d know what they mean. He’s got a complicated taster. I used to joke with David, when we first met, that he was more of a discerning eater because he hadn’t deadened his taste buds by burning them on hot coffee and tea as often as I had, but in truth, I think he’s just got a more complicated taster, and he passed it on to our boys. It’s become a cliché to say that children like bland foods, and to give them plain pasta and plain potatoes and bread, but I don’t think this is true at all. Most of the foods Isaac likes are bursting with flavor: goat cheese and olives and capers. I suppose it’s a question of letting them try everything and decide for themselves what they like, and recognizing that it’s okay if they like different things. I’d like to be able to taste the way Isaac does, to think about the first and middle and the last of it. I’m going to give it a try, to really think about all of the flavors. And this understanding applies to all things. I’ve long thought that one person’s courage is another person’s lack of imagination. It’s not necessarily brave to face fears that you don’t feel or dangers that you’re not aware of because they hadn’t occurred to you. We’re less likely to be impatient with somebody or call them a coward if we understand that they might just have a more complicated and active imagination. We’ve just got to learn to slow down and take that walk with them, and be sure to notice every part of the journey.

Chocolate covered strawberry cookies

Chocolate covered strawberry cookies

Malcolm invented these cookies, and when he was describing them and I wasn’t quite understanding it, he said, “I’ve got a very complicated mind.” He does, and I’m glad of it. And these cookies were delicious. They’re quite large, like little cakes really, and this recipe makes only twelve of them. They’re like giant thumb print cookies, with fresh strawberries hidden under a layer of dark chocolate. They were delicious! We all decided that if we made them again we’d add a little jam or nutella under the strawberry, so the whole thing doesn’t slide out when you bite into it. I melted chocolate chips on top of the cookies and then spread that across them, but you could also melt chocolate separately and spread that over, if that seems easier to you.

Here’s Sugar Never Tasted So Good by the White Stripes
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Cadbury mini-egg clafoutis

Cadbury mini-egg clafoutis

Cadbury mini-egg clafoutis

Malcolm was a little cantankerous last week (to use one of his vocabulary words). He was slightly brittle. He became upset and annoyed very easily, he yelled and cried over the slightest things. He goes through these moods sometimes (don’t we all?). They don’t last long and I’m sure they’re part of a growth spurt or hormones or some other completely normal and natural occurrence. And I always deal with the situation with my usual gracious composure. I certainly didn’t yell back at him. I certainly didn’t yell, “You want to see a tantrum? I’ll show you a tantrum!” because that would have been horrible parenting, mama. I didn’t ask him over and over and over if something was bothering him, something at school, maybe? Something with his friends? Because that kind of pestering never works and everybody knows it only annoys the pesteree. On Friday he went to breakfast at one friend’s house and after school he went for a sleepover at another friend’s house, and since I had to work Saturday morning, I didn’t think I’d see him for quite a few hours. So Thursday night we were cuddling and reading in Isaac’s bed, as we always do, but it was much later than usual and I was tired and I just wanted to go downstairs and switch myself off. Malcolm grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go and said I should stay just a few more minutes. Which I should have done. I should have stayed and read with them. I shouldn’t have gotten cranky and angry and gone downstairs. All that night and the next day and the next I felt bad about it. What is it about these small moments of regret that are so poignant? Why do these seemingly insignificant missed opportunities take on so much weight and meaning? I suppose because it hurts to realize we’ve underestimated the importance of a particular moment, and in doing so we’ve lost it. So the thing to do is to notice everything and appreciate everything, to understand how valuable these few minutes are even as they’re passing. To savor every moment of connection and recognize it for the glowing thing it is. And, of course, to be glad that no event is finite, it’s all part of a longer chain of moments flying by. This week Malcolm is back to his sweet cheerful self. He woke up Monday morning whistling “Let’s go Fly a Kite,” he didn’t get annoyed when I asked him five times if he had his homework and his lunch and his safety patrol belt. And last night he did his homework up on my bed while I put laundry away. We were looking up words in the dictionary, which is one of my favorite pastimes. We were laughing at the word cantankerous. And Clio came and stood between us, just stood and hovered, very quietly and seriously for more than a few minutes. Not a very spectacular incident, but I don’t think I’ll be forgetting it any time soon.

Cadbury mini-egg clafoutis

Cadbury mini-egg clafoutis

What? Cadbury mini-egg clafoutis?!?! That’s right!! It’s probably not an official clafoutis, which as we all know is a French tart made of cherries baked in a sweet batter. It’s a tart made of mini-eggs baked in a sweet batter! I added ground almonds to the mix, because I love the flavor of them. I made this twice, the first time I added almond extract, and the second time I left it out. Both kinds were tasty. Also, the first time I sprinkled all the eggs on top before baking and they sank to the bottom. The second time I added them gradually as the batter cooked and solidified and they were more evenly distributed. I liked it both ways. The eggs stay pleasantly soft, so you don’t feel as though you’re cracking your teeth on something hard in the soft batter, and you get just a little crunch from the shell. Nice.
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French lentil crepes with roasted butternut and chard

French lentil crepes

French lentil crepes

Malcolm has a little pile of worksheets on “the apostrophe;” laying down the rules, telling you when and how to use an apostrophe. Like all good grammar packets, it has sentences to illustrate the possible applications of this particular punctuation mark. These sentences aren’t supposed to be interesting or memorable, they just have to be informative and correct. You can imagine somebody straining their brain to come up with something dull and appropriate, trying to think of a name they haven’t used yet for an imaginary possessor or omitter of letters and numbers. Well! The sentences in this particular package are a little strange, they’re even almost funny. Viz: “the girls’ logrolling team.” (Is that even a thing?) And “Lucas’ hobby is collecting pencil stubs.” I love this one! I can just see Lucas, walking along, brow furrowed, searching the hallways for discarded pencil stubs. He’s probably collected about 547 so far, and he used to keep them in a box in his room, but then he had so many that they spilled out of the box and fell to the floor. Maybe he stepped on them one night when he was half-awake in the dark, and he rolled on them like they were tiny logs, until he found himself splashing around on the floor in a pile of blankets and toys. So he decided to move them to the garage. He liked the garage, because it was quiet and private and full of interesting and possibly dangerous objects. It felt rain-washed and dusty. It smelled like fertilizer and gasoline and dried cut grass. And now it smelled like pencils, which was his favorite smell in the world. He separated his pencil stubs by color, of course, and of course he had more yellow pencils than pencils of any other hue, so he put these in a big green rusting metal box with a broken latch. And the rest of the pencils, the green, blue, red and black ones, he organized in little drawers of a plastic case designed to hold screws and nails and nuts. He dumped all the nails into a clanking pile on the floor, and he lovingly separated his pencils of many colors. The pencils with designs: covered with hearts or rainbows or foil stars or slogans like “reading is my superpower!” these pencils he kept in some old cardboard box. He wasn’t too crazy about them. He was a pencil purist. He liked the plain bright colors, the perfect lettering in black or metallic green. He was a true collector, an enthusiast.He would take note of each pencil’s condition in a special notebook (he wrote in ink): did it have an eraser, or had it been rubbed down or pulled off? A perfect eraser on a stump of pencil was a rare and wonderful find, a prized possession. Did the pencil still have a point? Was it a sharp point, or a stubby point with the wood of the pencil frustratingly longer than the lead? Did the pencil have teeth marks? He’d chewed on a few pencils himself, and he understood the appeal, the feeling of wood yielding to his teeth, the flecks of paint like tiny inconsequential shards of glass. He liked to think about all of the words that had been written with each pencil. Lots of homework assignments, sure, but what else? Stories? Love notes? In the art room he’d collected quite a few drawing pencils, black or green with a rounded white end instead of an eraser. Soft, thick leads. These were his favorite of all. If he stared at them long enough he could almost see all the pictures they had drawn: still-lives, self-portraits, dream scenes. He felt bad for the pencils. It made him sad that they’d worked so hard, and then been cast aside. Did they not still contain lead? Yes they did! (Well, most of them did) Could they not still write? Of course they could, if you didn’t mind a little hand-cramping. He himself didn’t write with them, ever. They were too perfect, too special, and so little of them remained–they would be gone so soon. What could he possibly write that would be worthy of these little stubs of possibility, these small stumps of potential? What picture could he draw that would justify using up the small store of unused lead? He lay awake thinking about it. Someday he’d write the most perfectly beautiful story ever written, and he’d use one pencil for each word, and then he’d put each pencil back in its chipped plastic drawer until the next time. Some day.

French lentil crepes

French lentil crepes

What? Crepes made with french lentils? French lentils in the crepes? That’s right! Inspired by the Indian black eyed pea pancakes, I thought to myself, “Why not try this with french lentils, which are probably my favorite legume in the world?!?! I soaked them for a shorter time than the black eyed peas, because they don’t need to soak before cooking and they cook quite quickly. I added warm milk and eggs rather than water, and I seasoned them very simply, with rosemary and black pepper. They turned out good, I think! They’re denser than a regular crepe, and they have a lovely earthy flavor. We piled them with sautéed chard and roasted butternut squash, and we topped it all off with a mixture of grated mozzarella and smoked gouda and some leftover pistachio-pumpkinseed sauce. Very tasty, very satisfying, and very fun to eat.

Here’s This Pencil Won’t Write No More by Bo Carter

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Cherry chocolate tart with amaretti-meringue topping

Cherry chocolate tart with amaretti meringue topping

Cherry chocolate tart with amaretti meringue topping

Last night we went out for Indian food and we brought our restaurant-drawing book. Malcolm set us all the task of drawing clowns, so we did.

clowns

The restaurant was glowing, the food was good, the boys were happy–we all were! And all night long I had the strangest dreams. I dreamt that David and I went to the bank, and there was such a long line that everybody waiting got a chair to sit in. David went to get some food, and then the bank teller called my number, 76, like I was in a deli line. I said, “Oh, but it’s not my turn next!” And everybody explained to me that I’d won a special opportunity to partake in “Community Supported Banking.” Everybody waiting with me, surrounding me in their chairs, would be given a special rate (for what? I don’t know!) as long as we all agreed to be responsible for each other’s financial situation from that moment forward. I woke up at that point and I thought about how I’d be anxious to be responsible for other people’s financial situation because they might be dishonest or irresponsible, and then I felt bad for having such a dim view of human nature. When I fell asleep again I dreamed that we were at the ocean and Malcolm jumped in the waves even though it was winter time and icy cold. We laughed and looked around for a towel, and then a wave the size of the ocean came down upon us, and I couldn’t find Isaac and Malcolm was far away and I could see David but I couldn’t reach him. And then David woke me up and told me I’d been crying. I’ll spare you the account of my other dreams of the night, but they were many, and they were strange. We’ve determined that we often have strange dreams when we eat Indian food, I wonder if it’s true, or if it’s just a self-fulfilling superstitious belief. Winsor McCay believed that Welsh Rarebit could give you strange dreams. In 1904 he began drawing a cartoon in which each day a person would eat Welsh Rarebit and then have bizarre, sometimes frightening dreams.

dreams-of-the-rarebit-fiend

The stories became so popular that Edwin Porter made a beautiful film version in 1906.

I’ve been thinking about Winsor McCay a lot recently, because each morning when I finally shake off my dreams and clear my eyes, I see long icicles hanging from the wires outside our window, and I know that our world is covered in frost and snow and it has been for weeks and it probably will be for weeks. I wonder if instead of waking up, I’m still dreaming, and I’m in Slumberland with Little Nemo, exploring Jack Frost’s palace.

Slumberland

Slumberland

I was busy helping Malcolm plan a trip to Planet Mercury yesterday, and I never got around to posting a Sunday Interactive Playlist, so this week we’ll do a Monday Interactive Playlist, and the subject is sleep. Songs about sleeping, songs about not sleeping, songs that make you sleepy.

Cherry chocolate tart with amaretti-meringue topping

Cherry chocolate tart with amaretti-meringue topping

This tart is deeeeeeelicious, if I do say so myself and I do. It’s got a rich dense bottom layer, a juicy middle layer of cherry jam and bittersweet chocolate chips, and a top layer of amaretti meringue. What’s amaretti meringue, you ask? Well, it’s a meringue, and I hoped it would turn out like amaretti cookies, and it did! I’m so pleased! I’m not usually very good at making meringue, but this one turned out crisp and light, just as I hoped it would. I think if the weather was more humid we might have some problems with mushiness, but at the moment everything is wintery dry, and finally we’ve found a reason to be glad of that!

Here’s your link to the collaborative playlist of SLEEPY SONGS. Perfect accompaniment to my hibernation!

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Hazelnut blackberry pear tart and almond strawberry tart (with chocolate, of course!)

Blackberry, pear and hazelnut tart

Blackberry, pear and hazelnut tart

I think I had a big stupid smile on my face the entire time we watched Melody. Why the big 103-minute idiot grin? It wasn’t because the movie is sweet, although it certainly is. Nor because it is a happy movie, although in many ways it’s that, too. It was because it just felt so perfect. Everything about it was exactly as it needed to be. I could imagine the filmmakers watching the dailies and brimming over with gladness that they’d captured the shots they’d captured, and then adding just the right soundtrack, editing it perfectly, and sitting in the dark, full of joy, watching the finished movie. It’s an odd film in many ways. It’s called Melody, and it tells the story of a sweet sort of romance between Daniel Lassiter and Melody Perkins, but it’s almost more focussed on Daniel’s friendship with the kind but unruly urchin Ornshaw. Daniel is a child of relative privilege and Ornshaw is not, and the film reminded me of Machucha in that their friendship seems unexpected and almost discouraged, because it crosses certain unwritten boundaries; boundaries that adults create between certain types of people, boundaries which make no sense to children, but which they learn to honor and fear. And although the film is exceedingly sweet, it’s never saccharine. It’s too real for that. Apparently it’s Alan Parker’s first film script, and it’s beautifully told. The story unfolds in small meaningful moments, just like real friendships, just like life. We see spells of loneliness, moments of connection, misunderstandings and disappointments. When Melody and Daniel first spend any time together, they don’t really talk at all. She plays Frere Jaques on her recorder, and he joins in on his cello. They don’t play particularly well, but it feels as though they’re happy to be talking to each other. Like everything else in the movie, it’s the messiness and imperfection that makes the scene so beautifully human. Nothing is over-told, or too carefully explained, and we feel like we’re just watching the world from Daniel’s point of view. The camera catches the expressions of the people around him, and though the adults are almost grotesque, often cruel, and never capable of the clarity of thought that the children achieve, we still feel a certain affection for all of them. But why must they complicate everything? Why can’t they see how it should be? And though the film is sweet, it’s also anarchic, almost surreally so towards the end, in a scene that reminded me of Vigo’s Zero for Conduct. I think part of the reason that Melody made me so happy is that I’d never heard of it before about a week ago. It’s been around since 1971, and I had no idea it existed. It feels like a discovery! I found it because I’ve been obsessed with Nina Simone’s version of the song In the Morning. It turns out the original is by the Bee Gees (the Bee Gees!) and is just part of the ridiculously addictive soundtrack to this film. I love all the songs! Who would have thought? I love it all! I wonder which other films are out there, waiting to be discovered?

Strawberry chocolate almond tart

Strawberry chocolate almond tart

Here at The Ordinary, we call these tarts “Dormouse pies.” Because they contain dormice? Certainly not! Because they were inspired by the hazelnut and blackberry diet of a dormouse. They have a shortbread crust, a layer of jam, and a crunchy top layer of nuts and chocolate. I made two small tarts, one with blackberry jam, fresh ripe pears, hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate and one with strawberry jam, almonds and bittersweet chocolate. They’re both very good. Very very, dangerously good. I made two 6 inch tarts, but you could easily make one 10 or 11 inch tart with these ingredients, I think.

Here’s To Love Somebody from Melody, and a passage from the movie demonstrating all the beauty, humor, and affection contained therein.
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Quince, chocolate and hazelnut cake

Quince, chocolate and hazelnut cake

Quince, chocolate and hazelnut cake

On the way to school we passed a tree full of crows. When we startled them they took to the air, bright and noisy. More crows than would seem to fit in the tree, more crows than I’ve seen together at one time. Black and significant and beautiful. They flew over the rooftops and settled in a tree on the next block, and I scared them up again on the way home. I thought I might spend the day following a flock of crows and setting them off, into the cold clear air: a hoarse and raucous ruckus. What were the crows talking about? The weather, I expect. Like everyone else in this part of the world, they were discussing the cold. It’s cold. Not unseasonably, not unprecedentedly, not unexpectedly, to be true. But remarkably cold, and we’re all talking about it. I don’t mind it so much, because it feels clean and pure, it feels like a way to start anew when things come back to life. I don’t mind it so much because I’m lucky enough to have shelter and warmth, and I’m not sorry for an excuse to stay inside, sheltered and warm, baking and writing, if only for a day or two. And this brings us to your Ordinary phrase for the day. That phrase is “tuck in.” As you may recall, Isaac wanted to try taking care of somebody a week or two ago, and as part of the game he tucked me in with two pillows and two blankets. I’ve been thinking ever since about how good it is to be tucked in by gentle hands, how nice it is to be made warm and safe. Such a simple gesture, but such a rare feeling of comfort and happiness, such a memory of childhood, such a dreamy feeling that everything will be okay. Of course, “tuck in” has another meaning that appeals to me as well, especially in this weather, and that is to eat a meal. I always imagine it to be a big, hearty, warm, festive meal, in a scenario that involves tucking in. According to my beloved OED, “tuck” also describes the food itself, as well as the appetite one needs to eat it. You might find, “ten or twelve of these little bowls on the table, each with a different kind of ‘tuck’ in it.” You might have a friend who “being inclined for a tuck out, repaired where he was likely to meet with oysters.” We might “have a solid, staunch tuck-in,” all together. You might, “steal out at night from your dormitory and take tins of sardines from your tuck-box.” (I want a tuck-box!) And finally and best-of-all, you might aspire to the earn the label “tuck hunter,” so that it can be said of you that “Nothing can stop the mouth of a tuck-hunter.” And so it is my hope for all of my Ordinary friends, far and near, that however cold it may be outside, it is warm and cheerful inside, and that we all have some fine warm tuck to tuck into, or some gentle warm hands to tuck us in.

Quinces! I love them! The smell of them, the taste of them, the very idea of them. They’re quite rare around here, and a little pricey, so I always buy very few of them and then save them up till they’re almost past-it, while I wait to think of something special to do with them. This time I decided to make a cake. I cooked the quinces until they were soft. Then I cooked them with sugar, and a bit of clementine zest and juice and some vanilla extract. until they were thick and jammy. I used this, in concert with some bittersweet chocolate chips, as the central layer of a cake with hazelnuts and a bit of sherry. It’s almost like a gateau basque, except that the cake itself is a little different, a little thinner and softer.

Here’s Tom Waits with Cold Cold Ground. God I love this song.
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Clementine almond pastry cake

Clementine almond pastry cake

Clementine almond pastry cake

Sometimes when we have trouble making a decision we’ll ask Malcolm for help. Usually it’s a small thing–choosing between two paint colors, say, or whether or not I should add olives to a stew. He’s very decisive, but he’s thoughtful, too–he thinks quickly. And when he gives an answer it always seems to have been the obvious answer all along. It sounds silly, but I’ve been wracked with indecision lately on the subject of a story I’m writing. It was going along in the usual halting, stumbling way of most of my stories, when I noticed that it kept getting longer and longer. The characters were in my thoughts all day and night, and they were becoming more complicated, and all of these ideas about what things could be about started haunting me. I know you’re supposed to write something until it’s as long as it needs to be, but at some point you have to decide what you’re doing, you have to know where you’re going and have some idea how to get there. So I asked Malcolm. I was mostly joking, but I said, “Hey, Malcolm, should I write a short story or a novel?” I was thinking he’d just laugh it off, because it’s a ridiculous question. But he said, “Well, tell me about it, tell me about some of the characters, what’s it about?” This kills me! It’s so smart and sweet. And Malcolm had an idea for a story, too, which I’m going to help him write by asking him questions, so we were just like two writers, together, just a couple of story-writing friends, discussing our work. And I’ve decided to think like Malcolm, when I’m choosing if the story goes this way or that way…I’ll think quickly, and make it seem like it was inevitable all along. He chose novel, by the way, so we’ll see how that goes!

Clementine almond pastry cake

Clementine almond pastry cake

It’s a pastry cake! I’m very excited about this…I feel like I’ve invented a genre of sweet food. I first encountered the phrase “Pastry Cake” in one of my favorite books, Joan Aiken’s Go Saddle the Sea. I couldn’t find an actual pastry cake any where, so I decided it should be a thick dense cake, almost like a soft shortbread. The first one I made had a salted top. This one has clementine zest in the batter, plus almonds and a pinch of allspice and a drop of sherry. It’s stuffed with milk chocolate chips, and topped with sugar crystals, which gives it a nice sort of crispiness. Very festive, very tasty!

Here’s The Choice is Yours by Black Sheep
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